I fell in love with Alice Kettle’s mammoth tapestries as soon as I walked into the huge Whitworth gallery. Propped up by wooden assembly and situated at different angles they are surrounded by bundles of colourful textile objects. Every stitch is full of exquisite colour. The ‘billboards’ are a true masterclass in large-scale tapestry artwork and an expansive system of storytelling and narrative to boot. Not happy with simply showing us her exceptional use of technique and process, Kettle highlights themes of refugee migration and displacement within our global society. The vastness of her canvases depict all areas of the globe – land, sea and sky. People are almost secondary but feature as reminders that the world is a small place.
Her primary aim is to highlight people in need, of displacement and the ongoing survival of refugees fleeing their homes to safe ground. The experience of watching the life-jacketed bodies bobbing around in the blue expanse representing the sea is just as discomforting as watching it on the television. Kites dot the sky and birds roam the ground symbolising images of freedom and peace. The textile hot-air balloon peeked above the sky as though billowing in the wind. Behind ‘Sky’ featured additional artwork provided by a selection of migrants that Kettle and her daughter have engaged with throughout their research. It emphasises their intent to interact with refugees and give them an important space for dialogue within the gallery.
The ‘Stitch-A-Tree’ project, also titled ‘Forest’ is a culmination of individual tree creations – over 3000 contributions – by refugees across the country to show their support for displacement across the world. It’s a welcome addition to the structural complex built up by all the individual elements, akin to a temporary campsite, where refugee stories and artistic creations are now an important part of the fabric of our society.
On until 24th February 2019
‘Thread Bearing Witness’
Manchester, M15 6ER